West of the Utah’s Great Salt Lake lies one of the United States’ most extraordinary natural landmarks: the Bonneville Salt Flats. The largest of several such salt pans in the region, the geographical formation is a modern relic of an ancient, Pleistocene lake. Today, the lake has long since disappeared, as has any life: all that remains is a stunning, white sweep of land. For visitors to the area, the 30,000 acres of reflective, blinding salt is a must-see tourist stop. But for automotive fiends, the area is nothing short of a racing Mecca.
More land speed records have been registered at the Bonneville Salt Flats than anywhere else in the world. The shimmering surface of the salt has beckoned drivers here for more than a century, and today the Bonneville Speedway, an area of the flats used during races, draws visitors looking to test their vehicles’ mettle and maybe even break a world record. John Cobb, a British driver of yesteryear, sped to 394 mph at Bonneville in 1947 — a world record for a car with an internal combustion engine. Incredibly, rocket-powered cars have reached speeds in excess of 630 mph here.
Not everyone arrives here behind the wheel of a super car, though: the races also attract all manner of hot rods, old-school rides and quirky vehicles (the likes of converted jalopies have even been spotted). The informal motor show is as much a draw as the races themselves.
Today, the Bonneville Salt Flats are home to five main racing events including Bonneville Speed Week, held each August. For the traveller, though, it’s possible to stop by any time - visitors don’t need to be in pursuit of a world record to drive here, and the public land means anyone can come for a spin.
First time drivers should be mindful of a few things when visiting the track. For one, the surface of the salt is quite slick, so even the fastest of cars need to begin with a slow start. It’s best not to stray too far from the well-trodden areas, as the surface of the salt can become thin and vehicles can get mired if they break through. And be prepared to do some cleaning: the salt is guaranteed to get everywhere.
And for thrill seekers keen to test their driving skills, there’s another option on offer in Utah. Miller Motorsports Park is a mere 30-minute drive from Salt Lake City. The Miller Motorsports Park has played host to the American Le Mans Series, Rolex Sports Car Series and AMA Superbike events. When professional drivers aren’t lapping the world-class racecourse, amateurs and enthusiasts can have a go at it.
Besides driving the main racetrack, Miller Motorsports Park also offers 22 miles of desert terrain to explore and a kart centre. Every second Wednesday of the month from April to October is deemed "Wide Open Wednesday" — an open track day where anyone can tackle the 4.5-mile, 23-turn track.
"We've seen everything from minivans to Lincoln Town Cars" said John Gardner, marketing communications manager. "If you can’t have fun out here, then you probably don’t have a pulse."
If you're the type that needs a more structured speeding experience, Miller Motorsports Park happens to be the headquarters of the Ford Racing School. The racing school offers one to three day classes where students learn how to drive fast from experienced racecar drivers. The high-speed schooling is conducted in either a purpose built Ford Mustang GT or a Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, depending on whether you choose the road or off-road course.
So whether you're looking to steep yourself in the history of land speed records or record a few fast laps of your own, Utah has you covered.
Header photo © piccaya/iStock/Thinkstock
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Have you experienced Utah’s speed driving culture? Have you visited the Bonnevile Salt Flats? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Billy Yang
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About the author: BillyYangBilly Yang
Billy Yang is a freelance journalist specialising in travel and food writing. His passion for journalism stems from the idea that everyone has an interesting story to tell and it is a reporter’s job to find those stories and helps share them. More of his work can be found at billyxyang.com.